I like to write these “Blogs” every so often to clear my mind and daylight what’s going on with The Shadow Coalition (TSC). It’s nice if we hear back with thoughts, comments, and your wisdom.
Just a word concerning TSC’s concept regarding music as a moving force in this world; we believe that music is social glue, a way to bring humans into a close-knit community. Music brings different worlds together, whether it is through the same taste in music, or the willingness to try something new. It is one of the most worthwhile activities that binds folks together, also one of The Shadow Coalitions main goals.
Our Recording Adventure
TSC rehearses pretty much every Wednesday. We use to start at 6:00 pm and then for some reason it changed to 4:30 pm. I, most likely was the reason for the change. Getting to the point, a couple of Wednesday’s ago we were recalling our process of creating our first CD Destiny Drives Direction. It came up that maybe we should write about that experience for TSC’s blog, and for others that may be considering recording music for the first time. In our discussions we realized that, every artistic effort results in the presentation of the finished piece, which in our case is Destiny Drives Direction. The original tunes were created by Herb and Bijou, and were enormously inspiring to the group, which in turn, allowed creativity, followed by the lessons of group discipline. Our experience is not “the only way” nor is it written in stone, it is simply our first time experience. Hopefully this will be helpful, and informative to all.
Back in 2010 Jamie Faw, our drummer and owner of Ravenwood the Studio (http://www.ravenwoodthestudio.com/), was bit by bit piecing together a recording studio, which eventually fully developed into Ravenwood the Studio. At that time Jamie suggested that we move our Wednesday rehearsals from Herb’s house to Ravenwood. After settling into Ravenwood we got serious about arranging and organizing our catalogue of songs. We felt the easiest way to do that, was to record the songs that were well established and somewhat rehearsed.
We started recording with an Alesis ADAT24HD, which is a hard drive form of ADAT. Just a word on ADAT ( Alesis Digital Audio Tape a registered trademark of Alesis); ADAT is an eight-track digital tape recorder that caught the recording industry’s attention when first released in the 1990’s, and is now commonly used in recording studios around the world. ADAT was the first product in the category now known as modular digital multitrack (MDMs)
The ADAT24HD was equipped with a remote control, which was hard wired to the unit … yep that’s right … a cable ran from the drum set , back to the Alesis. Press the button and the show was on! Jamie was drummer, engineer, and conductor. We soon learned that patching mistakes and editing the music was very tedious with the ADAT24HD. Jamie, always on the lookout for a better way and an eye for studio development, turned to technology. Next thing you know, A Mac arrived with a state of the art monitor. Jamie had been researching editing software, and decided Pro Tools would do the job. Pro Tools is a digital audio workstation developed by Avid Technology for Microsoft Windows and macOS. It is used for a wide range sound recordings and sound production. Like all digital audio workstation software, Pro Tools can perform the functions of a multitrack tape recorder and audio mixer.
Around this time Bijou’s friend, Mike Jones, was invited to the studio. Mike is a long time sound man for many local bands and wanted to get involved in the recording end of music. So Mixology Mike as he is known came aboard as our engineer. So began the learning curve with Pro Tools. Mike quickly learned how to sweep the ADAT24HD WAV tracks into Pro Tools so they could be edited. We came to realize that we had many recordings of the same song. The problem is that, you usually don't remember why you kept certain tracks. Lesson one; go in the studio with a plan and songs that are arranged prior to recording! We spent many nights reviewing every recording to find the correctly arranged and recorded tracks to work with. If you’re like us, you only have three or four hours one night a week, which means many hours of review to sort things out. To avoid this problem, because you will record multiple tracks of the same song, keep notes. It's also helpful to assign this task to one member. So in Herb’s absences, he was elected “Note taker”. Having a note taker allows the notes to have a consistent format, and permits everyone involved to understand what’s going.
The learning curve continued after the sorting was finished with editing, cut and paste, timing, compression, effects, and all the reading and experimenting that goes along with learning a new process and application. Mixology Mike was admirably committed to the process, his commitment helped pushed the project forward. Thanks Mike!
There are also principled discussions concerning how much correction and production is acceptable when using a powerful technology like Pro Tools. Can we reproduce the sound at live performances? Is it ethical to enhance the sound with computer technology to provide the best quality recording? To answer these questions, our first approach was to rehearse tunes to perfection without the enhancements Pro Tools could offer; hopefully these recordings would be acceptable for both studio and live shows. Because our tunes are original with several different chord patterns and as many changes, it was almost impossible to not have a slight mistake while recording. These mistakes become amplified during the mixing phase, and become a quality issue. Eventually we came to the conclusion that recording and playing live are two different music forms. We now look at the “Studio” as another instrument, to be used with skilled discretion.
Over many months, we did learn our way to a reliable process that produced “Destiny Drives Direction”, a great ten song CD. We discovered a great deal about each other and the recording process, and helped Jamie develop Ravenwood into the fine recording studio it is today. Ravenwood is the premier recording studio serving El Dorado County and the surrounding area to many professional musicians. Below we created a summary of our process that may save you some time and heartache. Recording your music can be very rewarding in ways that will reveal themselves as the process unfolds. Embrace the process and enjoy every session.
If you’re going to produce a CD or a single song, its worth describing what a producer’s role is; a producer oversees and manages the sound recording and production of a band or performer’s music. This can mean one song or a long concept album. A producer will have many varying roles during the recording process and it will require openness and discussion with the musicians involved.
The way we see it there are five phases in the production of a CD; Recording, Editing, Mixing, Mastering, and Printing.
#1 Recording phase. Here’s where you capture the sound of the instruments and vocals to a physical/digital media. Pay attention to this part of the process, if it doesn’t go well here it can be very difficult to correct in any of the remaining steps. You must have good quality not only musically, but also the actual sound that is to be captured. No buzzing, no grounding problems, the slightest sound issues will show themselves later in the individual tracks.
This is where all the instruments are often recorded to separate tracks. Frequently more than one track per instrument is recorded in an attempt to capture the most of the “moment” … to get all the sound, all the effect from that instrument. Avoid leaking between instruments. If you have other instruments in a track it will be difficult to mix and give them their space in the mix. The recording device should be in as high resolution as possible.
#2 Editing phase. Editing allows you to correct several issues, tuning, and timing, choose different takes, clear unwanted noise (talking, aberrant notes, breaths, etc). This stage can be very time consuming and takes a good ear with skill. This is where well rehearsed music can really pay off!
Because editing is no longer done with scissors and cutting tape, it is somewhat intertwined with mixing. So, for a matter of order, it would be smart to keep them separate, but as a practical matter they sometimes occur at the same time. Try not to get side tracked mixing while editing.
# 3 Mixing phase. This is an artful process where you get to choose the volume of each instrument, should it be panned more left or right in the speakers. You can add effects to create a room/place feeling or add some distortion, reversed sounds, compression, or other elements. While mixing your music you will be controlling many channels at the same time. It can be difficult to keep the overall concept in mind, so decide on a type of sound you like and keep a grasp on that idea.
Here is where problems will pop up if in the recording phase instruments were not separated properly into different tracks. Mixing one instrument track that has the sound of another instrument (“leaked”) will mean the mixing effort will apply to both sounds.
Mixing also involves listening to the mixed product in various environments. For us it was necessary to tune our ears to the Ravenwood studio sound. We did this by listening to the preliminary mix in various environments (home sound systems, car systems, Blue toothed equipment, etc.) then returning to the studio with suggested changes. This exercise allowed us to develop our “studio ear”. It’s also advised to have access to a simple mastering application (not to be used as the final Master). This will allow you to get a feel for the final product. This effect will have to be stripped out before sending it to a professional Mastering service.
#4 Mastering. The main point of Mastering is to make the sound tolerate different sound systems. Making it sound as much “the same” as possible in different listening systems. During this phase some EQ comes in, compressor can be introduced, volume, to remove undesired volume differences between songs, and silence time between songs is adjusted.
You will also be able to include all you “metadata” which would include, International Standard Recording Code (ISRC), and text for track titles. Meta data is basically unique identifiers for your music. It is strongly recommended that the Mastering be done by a professional. Mastering is usually done by a Mastering technician rather than the mixing technician. Mastering and mixing are two different skill sets. Separating the two is best to avoid the problem of the same ears listening to the same tracks so many times, and to possibly add another opinion to the production value. There are many Mastering technicians available online and most of them will master a song for free. It pays to have several of these folks do the same song for comparison of quality and style. From the Master session a DDP master is produced, (Disc Description Protocol). This is a file used to replicate/duplicate CD’s, and can be sent directly to a CD production company.
#5 Printing. For a normal CD it should be 16bit/44.1kHz. There are many companies online that will provide you with a product. The choice usually boils down to, money, quantity, and time. You will have to choose between “Duplication” and “Replication”; replication is the process of “stamping” your data into an injection molded disc, sometimes referred to as a “glass master”. Replicated discs are the type you get in music stores and have a silver look to them. You will need to order replicated discs in higher minimum quantities (usually 300 plus). The advantage is, these discs will play in any system, and your data is actually built into the disc rather than burnt on to it. Duplicated discs may have trouble playing in some systems. If turnaround time is important, you should know replication will take longer. Duplication on the other hand uses a “Disc recorder” to “burn” your data into a pre-manufactured write once disc (CDR). The cost can be less expensive, lower minimum order, and the turnaround time is quicker. The difference in audio quality has been debated, but it seems that the decision really comes down to quantity, turnaround time, and price.
Next up, the type of packaging, will need to be researched (plastic box, paper sleeve, etc.). You will need your artwork ready to manufacturers specifications (they will enlighten you to the details). You may want to include your liner notes, acknowledgements, song titles, song times, and possibly the lyrics. If you have recorded a “cover tune”, you will need to provide proof that you paid due copyrights to get your product out of the CD production company. All of the above chores can be taken care of through the internet. Better yet record your project at Ravenwood the Studio (http://www.ravenwoodthestudio.com/) and Jamie can help with all that is needed to get your CD to market.
All this may sound overwhelming, but it all doesn’t happen at once, so you can take it a step at a time. Just enjoy the process and feel free to ask us questions, we’d be glad to help.
“Where words fail, music speaks”